Identity at the crossroads

Posted on Fri 16 July 2021 in Diversity

Who am I?

Even today, I'm still trying to figure out who I am. Several years ago I made a bulleted list. I thought I'd covered everything, but identity can't be packaged up so neatly in a box with only six facets. It's more like last year's Christmas lights all tangled in knots. You pull one side and three other strands come out.


I am Cuban-American on my mother's side and Polish-Jewish-American from my father. Although, to be honest, my mother and father were separated before I was born, and while growing up I had never met my father or anyone in his family, so according to custom, I shouldn't be Jewish. However, my single mother wanted to keep all options open to me, so she raised me as a Jew, even though she herself had been raised Catholic. Therefore, I went to Hebrew school from the time I was 4 years old until 3rd grade, and I never learned Spanish, even though my grandmother who immigrated from Cuba in the 30's and spoke almost no English, frequently lived with us. You can imagine how confusing this was for me. Am I an Eastern European Jew or Latinx from the Caribbean? Even today, I still haven't figured out what my ethnicity is. I don't have a simple answer. I'm both, neither, and something else.


When my grandmother left Cuba, she was a teenager. She never had more than an elementary school education, and she came to New York City with the family whom she served. She married one of the family sons, my grandfather, had two daughters, and was suddenly widowed. Then, my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt were deported back to Cuba where they lived for almost four years. They were finally allowed to return to the U.S., where my grandmother earned her citizenship and raised her two children by herself, working as a seamstress. So am I first generation or second? My mother immigrated to this country, even though she was born here.

Sex & Family

Three women, worked hard, raising children, without the partners that begot them. My grandmother, in a foreign country, with little formal education, only broken English, and a skill set only a servant could acquire, with a will stronger than tool steel, forged ahead, alone, making sure both her children received the education she never had. The nuns were stern at their Catholic schools, striking my left-handed aunt so she would use her right, but my mother and her sister persevered and made it through high school.

My mother went straight to community college to get her teaching credential and started working. Oh to be young and employed in New York City in 1969! How enchanting! The music, the poetry! Although it didn't work for my mother and father, she chose to keep me anyway, and like her mother made the sacrifices necessary to make sure I was healthy and happy and had more opportunities than she did as a child. We moved to California when I was three to be closer to my aunt who was also a single mother.

That was my unconventional family: my mom, my aunt, my cousin, my grandmother, and me. There were never any men in our lives other than a few of our parents' coworkers and other friends' fathers. I saw traditional families when I went to friends' houses. Lots of kids asked me about my father, if I knew him, or if I even had a father. Yep, it was weird, but to be honest, I always loved my family, and I couldn't even imagine it any other way. We always had love, and that's what matters.

So I try to be a feminist, not just because I'm grateful of the women in my family, but because it's the right thing to be. Mothers shouldn't have to make sacrifices to raise their children, no one should. All humanity should raise up and respect parents who bring forth life, nourishing it, and model the goodness we wish to see in the world.




Race & Color